When my son was little, he went to day camp with a bunch of his friends – they went in like a pack. As they got older and many made the transition to sleep-away camp, the decision making took a different turn – many parents want their kids to go to sleep-away camp and make new friends and so they happily base their decision more on their own kid than where the kids can go in a pack. Marla Leader, Director of the Long Island “The Camp Experts and Teen Summers“, gave us some insight on this decision making process.
As a professional summer camp advisor, one of the most frequently asked questions I hear is regarding whether or not children should go to camp with a friend or alone. The answer is not an absolute yes or no. However, before making the decision that’s best for your child, let me provide some food for thought to guide you.
In a perfect world, camp directors would prefer that each new camper come to camp without a buddy, thereby putting all new campers on a socially even playing field. Without the security of knowing a friend is by your child’s side, the general consensus is that a child will be more open and available to forge new relationships. It also gives a child leeway to re-invent their persona without question or judgement from someone who may perceive them differently based on their existing relationship. So much for the perfect world – now let’s move on to reality!
Heading off to sleep-away camp can be a fearful time for both parent and child. In many instances a child simply will not agree to go without the comfort of a friend or acquaintance. Sometimes this anxiety can originate from one or both parents, but that is a topic for a different column! This is a time where a parent should listen to their gut instinct and proceed in the manner they feel is best for their child – not the child’s friend, or the other child’s parents. Take time to play out some of the scenarios that can occur. Let me present a few:
- Brittany and Nicole are good friends who go to school together and can’t imagine being separated for the summer. The families went through the search process together and have mutually agreed on a camp for the girls. Summer arrives and both girls happily board the bus, feeling quite comfortable setting next to one another. Once at camp and settled into their new summer environment, it is inevitable that one of the girls will make a new connection first. How will the other girl feel? Will one feel left out or abandoned if she hasn’t made a new connection yet? Will she feel like a tag-along in the wake of her friend’s excitement? Will she write a letter home reflective of her feelings? How might this impact your relationship with the other child’s mother?
- Michael and Jared have been in day camp together since they were 3. The boys were reluctant to go to sleep-away camp, but the prospect of going away together provided enough security for each of the boys to agree. The families mutually select a camp for the boys and after months of shopping and packing, the camp buses will be leaving in a week. Jared has an unfortunate accident on the soccer field, breaks his foot, and has to stay home. Is Michael prepared to go without him?
Take the time to think these and other scenarios through. Discuss them with your spouse, your child, and the friend’s parents. If your gut still tells you that this is the best formula for success, then by all means, sign them up together. Keep in mind that “together” does not always mean they have to be in the same bunk. Most camps will have more than one bunk of campers in a division, and may have more than one division within an age group. Requesting separate bunks or divisions can give each child a different core to their experience yet still provide the comfort of having a friend nearby.
Sleep-away camp is a time to grow as an individual, gain independence, participate in new activities and learn to be part of a community of your peers. Your ultimate decision should be toward to goal of maximizing the benefits of the total camp experience.
Marla Leader is the Director of the Long Island “The Camp Experts and Teen Summers“, a free summer camp and program advisory service. Marla and her team work individually and confidentially with families to guide them toward selecting a camp to suit each child’s likes, dislikes and personality while fulfilling each parent’s vision of camp for their child. Marla can be reached at 516-625-9500, firstname.lastname@example.org or www.campexperts.com.